What Are the Psychological Effects of Discrimination at Work?

by Phil Cord

When setting about their career path, people envision a future where they come up through the ranks until they achieve their life goals, be it a high position in a company or a comfortable life. Though a few bumps along the way are expected, some might face adversity from an unexpected source. It would seem that working in the same space calls for mutual respect, yet some people might fall victim to workplace discrimination.

Though discrimination at work is illegal, some people still might find themselves being treated based on their race, color of skin, religion, national origin or gender. Unfortunately, it’s a recurrent problem, with 70% of workers admitting they have experienced workplace discrimination. The mistreatment can profoundly affect one’s mental well-being as they might experience heightened stress, low self-esteem, loneliness and frustration, which can later lead to anxiety and depression.

In a harmonious work environment, there is no room for prejudice. As everybody might become a victim of workplace discrimination, it’s crucial to understand its signs and effects not only on the employees but even the employers themselves. After all, no business can exist without the beneficial coexistence of both sides, and once discrimination at work starts to happen, everybody loses.

How to Overcome Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination might have a devastating effect on one’s life, which is why it’s important to immediately look for a solution before the situation gets out of hand. A good start is confronting the people who are responsible for the harassment.

Then, the victim needs to start gathering evidence so they can back up their claim. They should jot down discriminatory incidents and include the date, time, location and other relevant details in their notebook or journal. They might even ask co-workers present at that time for their recount of the situation so they may act as a witness.

Ultimately, they could report the incident to the manager, HR or an external organization, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It’s important to remember that discrimination at work is illegal and might be a basis for filing a lawsuit. It may be costly, so it’s beneficial to know what is pre-settlement funding and how to apply for it.

It is imperative that the employers themselves take such cases very seriously. Beyond the matter of simple decency or potential lawsuits, discrimination is often a major source of employee stress, and the overabundance of it has been found to have a major negative impact on the productivity of your staff.

To make it worse, cases of discrimination may vastly decrease your employee retention rate, not to mention hamper any ongoing recruitment efforts if the word of it gets around — new talent won’t choose a workplace where they can be judged on qualities other than their professional skills.

Psychological Effects of Workplace Discrimination

In order to address the problem of workplace discrimination, it’s important to be aware of its effects on everyone involved. Besides the noticeable impact, such as stress and frustration, several consequences might not be obvious at first. Below are the psychological effects of workplace discrimination that everybody should know about:

Heightened stress: Discrimination at work can cause a great deal of stress that can harm one’s physical and mental health. Living in anxiety and wondering when the harassment will occur again or what form it will take may make someone constantly on edge. This uncertainty can lead to chronic stress as they might experience panic attacks and become irritable.

The situation becomes even more perilous as mental strain might manifest itself as physical symptoms. Through the years, chronic pain has been linked to several ailments, such as body aches, digestive problems, high blood pressure, insomnia and depression. Stress is an inevitable component of the workplace, but constant worry about a toxic work environment can be quite exhausting.

Prolonged exposure to unnecessary stress will have a negative impact on the satisfaction of your workforce. That, alone, can be deadly to your business as, according to the Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, the happiness of your staff is inherently related to their effective productivity. To a growth-oriented enterprise, losing more than a tenth of your effectiveness at work due to such a preventable issue as discrimination is a waste of opportunity greater than you may think.

Frustration: Discrimination at work might also lead to frustration that can be quite overwhelming. Being subjected to inappropriate comments at work, such as racial slurs or derogatory jokes, can hurt anyone’s feelings. When this happens, the victims might become angry and feel the urge to lash out at people around them, including their co-workers and superiors. Though the anger is justified, aggression is never a solution because the victim might be the one to bear the consequences.

Some people simply bottle up that frustration, becoming understandably irritable and having a negative impact on the company culture due to their proneness to lash out. Bear in mind, however, that as an employer, you shouldn’t deal with the symptom but rather with the root of the problem. Investigate what happened and take quick and decisive measures to end discriminatory behaviors once and for all.

If you won’t, sooner or later your talent will become fed up and simply leave for another job. In an environment where job-hopping is already rampant, especially among younger generations, further personnel loss due to unbusinesslike behavior should be prevented, not ignored.

Loss of confidence: Since discrimination disregards someone’s potential for growth and advancement, the victim might start questioning themselves. As a result, they might lose confidence in their abilities and start believing that they don’t deserve better treatment or have no capability to excel. This diminished self-esteem is one of the most common side effects of discrimination at work.

Low self-esteem can seriously impede someone’s everyday life, both personal and work-related. For instance, they might feel themselves withdrawing from social interactions with their colleagues or avoid taking on new responsibilities. This should be outrageous even to the most growth-focused of employers, as robbing a potentially extremely talented employee of their will to improve and go beyond is a loss of great opportunity for the company’s future.

Loneliness: Discrimination can take the form of isolation and ostracism, which can lead to loneliness at work. Even if there is only one problematic person and the rest of the colleagues are friendly, they might not have a clue about what the harassed person has been through. The isolation makes the victim feel like a stranger in their environment, which can make them long for the companionship of family and friends.

To an employer, workforce loneliness may be a growth-limiting factor simply due to the estrangement and the sense of disunity it creates within both teams and the company culture at large. Less integration between the peers leads to decreased synergy and, consequently, lower communication and productivity levels.

Substance abuse: Experiencing tremendous pressure, the victim might be looking for coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, some of them might be disastrous. As discrimination at work can cause someone stress and anxiety, they might think that alcohol or drugs will help them cope with it and make them forget about it for a while. However, using these substances is not a long-term solution; it only makes things worse by increasing one’s chances of developing an addiction and causing further problems in life.

In such a situation, employers should do everything possible to extend the helping hand to their subordinates. Substance use is no joke and can have disastrous consequences not only to the lives of the personnel involved but also to the brand image of the company. An employee being discriminated against so much that they feel the need to use substances is a powder keg just waiting to spark an enormous PR and social media crisis. As such, putting an end to the discriminatory practices as soon as possible is in the very best interests of your company.

The Signs of Workplace Discrimination

There might have been hushed whispers about someone being discriminated against at the workplace; however, it’s very often hard to notice the signs before a scandal breaks out. In many cases, the victims themselves don’t realize the prejudice they face, as discrimination may be subtle at first.

If someone suspects they might be discriminated against, they should ask themselves whether any of these circumstances applies to their situation:

  • Being the subject of offensive jokes
  • Being asked inappropriate questions during the job interview
  • Lack of diversity in the workplace
  • Unfair promotions
  • References to age
  • Unjust disciplinary actions

If someone has experienced any of the above, they might be a victim of workplace discrimination and they should take action to fight against their perpetrators. Most importantly, the law is on the victim’s side and, if needed, they might seek assistance for their problem.

Employers should always support them in such cases, if not from goodwill alone then to prevent the loss of the company’s image and raise the morale and, ultimately, the motivation of their workforce.

Discrimination at work can have a detrimental effect on one’s mental health. Though it might seem like minor incidents at first, it should not be taken lightly. The victim might experience feelings of frustration, isolation and loss of confidence that can lead to anxiety and depression, decreasing the productivity and efficiency of not only their immediate colleagues but also the entire business.

However, if the harassed person takes action in the form of reporting the incident to HR or EEOC and has the support of their employer, they should be able to overcome workplace discrimination. Such discrimination is far from rare, but it’s possible to make a difference by standing up for oneself and others who face the same problems. After all, everything is on the line — from personal health to the continued prosperity of the company involved.

Phil Cord is a freelance content writer. He loves exploring new solutions and their impact on business. Currently, he works with a group of specialists fascinated by the broadly understood subject of work. Their areas of interest include topics related to the future of work, offices, technology in the workplace, HR specialists’ competencies, health, communication and a wise combination of professional and private life.

Speak Your Mind

In Business Dailies

Sign up for a complimentary year of In Business Dailies with a bonus Digital Subscription of In Business Magazine delivered to your inbox each month!

  • Get the day’s Top Stories
  • Relevant In-depth Articles
  • Daily Offers
  • Coming Events